By David G Maillu
In the name of criticism we have got a crop of people on the ground who employ intellectual witchcraft to destroy creativity. There’s an extent at which criticisms become destructive criticism, particularly when that criticism is triggered by the love-to-sound-and-hear-your-own-bray.
In what context did Dr Joyce Nyairo write in Saturday Nation when she said, “As we await the arrival of that great Kenyan novel that will knock A Grain of Wheat and The River and Source off the best seller charts”? Elsewhere she wondered, “Do we Kenyans lack the talent to fictionalize accounts we think are significant? Do we lack the ethical compass that leads old-school authors to state in disclaimers upfront?”
Nyairo has overprized A Grain of Wheat, The River Between, Things Fall Apart and the rest in the name of criticizing lack of criticism in Kenya. It is important for us to understand the historical circumstances under which those works were written and published. Their publication abolished the underlying Whiteman’s colonial belief that the Blackman is incapable of writing.
When the British publisher, Heinneman, kicked off with a series called “African-Writers” under which its first publications were Things Fall Apart, The River Between and the others, as samples of theAfrican’s ability to write, those titles were given worldwide publicity. That was the making of earlier authors led by Chinua Achebe, James Ngugi, Ayi Kwei Amah and others, intellectual guinea pigs.
These novels were given ai incredible commercial world-wide monopoly of consumption in reading institutions. By the time each of the authors published his third book, he had been grafted to become a world celebrity.
The celebrity of these earlier African writers eclipsed many writers in developed countries, some of them who had published more and great works. Later on when the Heinneman African Writers Series had grown big and the excitement and monopoly had been killed, the publisher abandoned publishing the series. By that time other writers had come onto the stage but unfortunately their works did not receive the graft given to the first ones. Commercially the publisher was unable to sustain the publication. Nevertheless, the pioneer authors sustained their grafted celebrity up to this stage.
Unfortunately, that fame went into the heads of some of them. It bought their personality the licence of moving throwing their grafted intellectual weight on the “small” authors, demanding that they should be recognized as only qualified intellectual earth movers.
Apparently, the books of these earth movers form the yardstick with Dr Joyce Nyairo is assessing Kenyan creativity.
The second installment of the Whiteman’s challenges stormed in Africa claiming that African authors are mere short-distance runners because they hardly can author works running beyond three hundred pages. Allow me at this stage to sound my bray. Although I was not writing to prove them wrong, I published Broken Drum running 1,120 pages, which sister Joyce Nyairo can’t see at all for A Grain of Wheat and River Between. She has been awaiting the arrival of the great Kenyan novel, certainly overlooking many other recent publications from other unpublicized authors that include my latest Man from Machakos and Mwanzo, The Nairobian.
I dare not say that my forthwith coming, latest and lengthy novel, Pathways, fictionalized review of the history of Kenya’s 50 years of self-rule, will come anywhere near what Dr Joyce Nyairo and her people are awaiting. However, what we will never get, I can bet, is the return of the times of Chinua Achebe, James Ngugi, Ayi Kwei Amah and earlier writers. In that case, you can rest assured that no other novels will beat Things Fall Apart, The River Between and The Beautiful Ones are not Yet Born.
Woe unto the upcoming creative writers if they use Nyairo’s yardstick to measure their creativity. Their creativity is very valid and they are great writers but at a different time, long, long after grafting has died with British Heinneman Publishers. My advice to them: swim or sink.